the weekly newsletter from Dr Ruth Weeks, Headmistress
Discovering the art of Florence
03 March 2017
On Thursday 16 February, sixteen girls from Years 10 to 13 and three accompanying staff set off for Florence at the indecent hour of two o’clock in the morning. It was to be a long day!
Our flight was somewhat delayed as one of our fellow passengers demanded to leave the plane (because of unforeseen personal circumstances) as we were actually trundling towards the runway. This inevitably caused us to lose our take-off slot and the security procedures associated with the gentleman’s removal meant that we sat in our seats for an additional two hours before finally making it into the air. Thankfully, this was the only untoward incident in a visit that had much to offer in terms of places to be visited and experiences to be enjoyed.
Our first port of call was Pisa, where our somewhat truncated visit allowed us the opportunity to eat the first Italian pizza of our stay and to explore the city’s cathedral and baptistery. Unfortunately, our tardy arrival meant that there was no time to attempt an ascent of the famous leaning tower.
By the time we arrived, somewhat gritty-eyed, in Florence we were ready for a rest but first we needed to establish ourselves in our hotel. The Hotel Bonifacio, although a little further out from the centre than some we have stayed in, proved to be clean and well-appointed with a convenient room for our group meetings. Hardly had we dropped suitcases in our rooms than we were required to troop out once more and walk to the restaurant that was to host us twice during the visit. This proved to be entirely empty at 7:30pm (the Italians generally prefer to eat later in the evening) and the food was of an excellent quality. Those girls who accompanied us on our visit to Venice in 2015 will recall having to eat chicken and chips almost every evening! After this, re-energised by our meal, we made a brief exploratory tour of the centre of the city, pausing to avail ourselves of the many ice-cream opportunities and (for some of us) to ride on the beautiful carousel in Piazza della Repubblica.
Friday morning at breakfast disclosed more than a few bleary eyes but everyone was soon wide-awake as we began our round of visits to the gardens, churches and galleries of this lovely city. A bracing breath of fresh air in the Boboli gardens was followed by a visit to the Brancacci chapel of Santa Maria del Carmine to see Masaccio’s ground breaking frescoes from the early decades of the fifteenth century. Our day’s visits ended with our tour of the Uffizi gallery, there to call in on some old friends of mine; Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Simone Martini’s Annunciation and many others that will perhaps now also find a home in the memories of those girls who had the opportunity to admire them.
Sunday’s visit to the ancient and historic city of Siena was another highlight of the tour. Its impossibly ornate black and white striped cathedral always makes me think of humbugs. As ever it was a delight to soak up the warm February sunshine over a cappuccino in the broad piazza, venue for the hectic Palio horse race later in the year. On the way back to Florence we called in at San Gimignano, the sleepy hillside town famous for its soaring medieval towers. Usually this is almost spookily quiet on a February afternoon, the raucous cries of crows wheeling around its towers almost the only sounds to be heard. On this occasion, however, our visit coincided with the local carnival and the narrow streets were filled with music and conversation, packed with local revellers and colourful floats. A number of small boys armed with water pistols caused great excitement as they targeted our girls but we found refuge in the tallest of the towers, enjoying a spectacular view of the Tuscan countryside beyond the town walls.
It was a visit that offered girls a wide variety of experiences and one that should have enabled them to learn much about Renaissance Art and about the history of Italy in that period in general. We walked a great deal and saw a great deal too. We could have spent much longer in each of our venues had time allowed but I hope that the visit has given girls a taste for Italy and for this fascinating period in Art and in History. During our time spent exploring a market devoted entirely to chocolate in Piazza della Santissima Annunziata we were offered many tantalising tastes of the wares on display. I hope that our visit to Florence will serve likewise to stimulate an appetite for further exploration and that girls will wish to return to these places to become more fully acquainted with them later in their lives.
Mr M Dukes
Head of Art
Florence Visit 2017
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